Democrats in Congress want to ‘impeach’ President Donald Trump on Wednesday for his role in storming the Capitol earlier this month. What exactly is that, why is it not the same as impeachment and what can Trump expect in the near future?
Historical times in the US!
You can say that. Trump looks set to become the first president in US history to be impeached twice.
Presidents who do that once are very rare – previously there were only two: Bill Clinton (1998) and Andrew Jackson (1868). They were eventually acquitted by the Senate, as was Trump on his first ride in early 2020. Richard Nixon resigned himself in 1974, before the House could sue him.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the charges against Trump on Wednesday evening between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Dutch time).
When can such impeachment proceedings be started?
The US Constitution states that a president can be removed from office if he is guilty of “high treason, bribery or other high crimes and offenses”.
The latter provision is not very clear (because what exactly is a ‘high crime’?), But in principle it amounts to an abuse of power.
What are the Democrats accusing Trump of?
There is one charge this time (article of impeachment). He is accused of ‘inciting rebellion’. According to the Democrats, the president incited his supporters in a speech just before the storming of the Capitol.
He is also said to have created the climate for that event by claiming for months that his election defeat was the result of large-scale fraud by his opponents (which he still maintains).
“With all this, President Trump has seriously endangered the security of the US and its democratic institutions. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, disrupted the peaceful transfer of power and endangered another branch of government,” the indictment said.
Well, an attempt at impeachment. Quickly explain how that process works.
You can compare impeachment with a criminal trial. The House of Representatives is then the Public Prosecution Service: it decides whether to prosecute, sets the charges and acts as prosecutor during the trial.
The Senate is where the trial takes place. The president of the Supreme Court acts as the presiding judge, but that is largely a ceremonial role.
The 100 senators are in fact both judges and juries: they hear the prosecutors and the defense, ask them questions and ultimately vote on the conviction and the sentence. Two thirds of the votes are needed for a conviction.
The main difference from a criminal case is that impeachment is a purely political process. The point is not whether someone can be proven guilty, but whether enough senators can be persuaded to vote for a conviction.
Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. (Photo: ANP)
So the first move is for the House of Representatives.
Exactly. That examines whether the president should be charged. Witnesses can be heard and documents requested (such as during the lengthy hearings leading up to Trump’s first impeachment).
However, such an extensive preliminary investigation, usually conducted by the judicial commission, is not a hard requirement. The Democrats are therefore abandoning that this time: they believe that the charges against Trump are crystal clear and that there is almost involved in his removal. That is why that Wednesday will be put to the vote immediately after debate.
If a simple majority agrees to the charges, it is sent to the Senate. Given the Democratic majority in the House – and the fact that a (small) number of Republicans have said they will vote in favor – this will most likely be the case.
The Speaker of the House (in this case Democrat Nancy Pelosi) has already had nine so-called impeachment managers appointed, who will act as prosecutors during the political trial in the Senate.
When can we expect that lawsuit in the Senate?
That is still the question. The Republicans have a majority in that chamber of Congress until the end of January, so the current majority chairman, Mitch McConnell, still has a lot of influence on the start of the process. He has announced that, as far as he is concerned, it cannot begin until the Senate returns from recess, on January 19 – one day before Biden’s inauguration.
The Democrats would rather start earlier, but McConnell doesn’t seem to be very keen on that for the time being. Negotiations on this continue.
But if Trump is indeed found guilty and impeached, he is probably no longer president! Does all this still make sense?
If two-thirds of senators condemn Trump, additional sentences could be imposed on him. For example, his presidential pension (about $ 200,000 per year) can be discontinued. But more importantly to the Democrats, he could also be banned from holding political office again.
To impose those extra sanctions after a conviction in the Senate, a simple majority of the senators is enough.
The Democrats (and a few Republicans) also argue that it is also of great symbolic importance to show that Congress will never tolerate an attack on the democratic rule of law, so that future presidents are not given ideas by Trump’s actions.